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Page Header Vet Care

Perhaps one of the most necessary, elusive, frustrating, and often misunderstood areas of the Thoroughbred Racing Industry is the veterinary process.  According to the Thoroughbred Owners of California Owners’ Handbook:  The average career of a professional football player is three years; while the average career of a racehorse is one and a half years.  These are fragile animals….

Field Vet Image  Like all animals, race horses require medical attention for various  reasons before, during, and after they are sent to the track.  The type of  care that they receive depends upon the owner’s stated intentions, the  trainer’s procedures, and the rules and regulations that each state  mandates.

 Treatments and associated costs are relative to what each horse needs  to remain healthy.  Understanding as much as possible about the  purpose of the care given, the cost, and communication about the do’s  and don’ts of veterinary procedures is very important to knowing about your Runner’s health.  Perhaps the most controversial area of veterinary care is the use of medications—we’ll discuss this topic after we cover the vet basics.

There are common treatments and medications that all Thoroughbred racehorses receive during the course of their racing tenure.  They have scientific and generally accepted nicknames.  The charges for the services rendered can vary by the vet, and the only standard is what the market will bear.  As such, it is important to talk to your farm manager and trainers about vet routines so, in the very least, you will better understand your horse’s health.

Routine Procedures

De-worming is necessary at least quarterly for parasite control.

Scoping is the examination of the horse’s upper respiratory tract—with particular attention to the cartilage structures (i.e. the “flapper”) in the throat that opens and closes the airway.  Vets use an instrument called an endoscope (i.e. “scope”), which is like a tiny video camera attached to the end of a long, flexible hose.  The scope goes up the horse’s nose (a task that requires skill and understanding of the horse’s temperament) and into the area of the throat to determine if there is physiological problem that would cause the horse to have a displaced flapper and essentially block its airway.  According to the Consignors & Commercial Breeders Association (CBA), recent research studies by Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, KY have shown  that more than 98% of Yearlings had no throat problems and horses graded IIa and IIb rate the same as horses graded I (the best).  Scoping to detect verifiable problems is necessary.  In the same light, a young horse’s airway is in a constant state of change, and normal throat deviations do not equate to lower performance on the racetrack.

Float Teeth  Radiographs (i.e., x-rays) are utilized to examine the horse’s bone and joint structure,  development, and condition.  Depending on the vet, the cost can vary for an x-ray  consultation.

 Though not necessarily "vet-specific" categories, foot, hoof, and teeth maintenance are  also necessary procedures for a horse’s health.  Diet, grooming, and providing a safe/clean living environment are also important to having a healthy horse.

Common Conditions

Exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (i.e., EIPH or “bleeding”) occurs when blood is present coming from the horse's nose during and/or after intense training or racing.  It looks like a nose bleed, but the source is actually the capillaries in the lungs.  Simple EIPH occurs as the natural consequence of the layout of the horse's organs; the way the equine body moves during high-speed galloping; and the elevated blood pressure in the lungs.  Nearly all horses show at least some bleeding within the lungs when running at full speed, and all race horses will bleed once or twice during their careers.  The back-and-forth motion of galloping, and the stress of heavy breathing causes the tiny blood vessels in a horse's lungs to rupture.  Also, airborne contaminants (dirt, dust, extreme temperatures, etc.) and infections can also irritate the capillaries.  The severity and frequency of the condition's occurrence will determine the horse's ongoing ability to compete.

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) is a condition seen in young horses when the cartilage surface of the growing long bones and joints fails to fully develop properly, and leaves cartilage at the surface where the bone should have hardened.  The common procedures are to surgically remove the soft spots (i.e., lesions) or let the normal development process resolve the OCD.  At sale time, the presence of OCDs can "scare off" potential buyers looking for clean x-rays; but the good news is that, in most cases, OCDs have a small effect on training and racing performance.  “When I bought Real Quiet for $17,000, I didn’t vet him.  I just bought the athlete.  I’ve had horses that didn’t pass the vet when they were yearlings and then went on to become great racehorses.  Horses change and sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes not.”—Bob Baffert.

Arthroscopic surgery for a damaged knee, and/or removal of a bone or ankle chip has also become a “routine” procedure.

Sesamoiditis is inflammation of the sesamoid bones—the bones found at the back of the fetlock (ankle) that help to keep the tendons and ligaments that run between them correctly functioning.  Mild cases are treated with anti-arthritic medications and rest.

Torn suspensory ligaments and bowed tendons (i.e., Tendinitis) require months of rest, and medically there isn’t much that can be done to treat this problem.  Typically, horses that suffer from severe Tendinitis-related ailments are unable to make a succcessful come back.


The use of medications to prevent illness and treat of certain ailments are allowed for horse wellness and preparation for competitive racing.  These include vaccinations, anti-inflammatories, steriodes, antibiotics, vitamins, minerals, and local anesthetics.  Adequan, Clenbuterol, Furosemide (i.e., Lasix), Equipoise, and Phenylbutazone (i.e., “bute”) are a few common medications that are used to treat cartilage, fluid in the lungs, bleeding, hormone deficincies, and inflammation respectively.  Only medications used to control bleeding are allowed in all states during racing—all other drugs are not permitted in a horse’s system while in competition. 

Vet Care  Because horseracing is regulated by the individual state that conducts pari-mutuel  wagering, each state’s procedures for testing racehorses vary widely and the “quality”  depends upon the level of funding set aside in the state’s testing budget.  Typically, all  horses that win, and those also selected by the racing stewards, have to report to the  test barn immediately following a race to submit a urine and blood sample, which is  sent to a laboratory employed by the racing commission.

 Lab directors report that in 99 percent of test “positives,” the drug found in the horse’s  system wasn’t intentional; but rather, it wasn’t given properly or administered too close to race time.  That said, the Industry is also faces two greater problems that threaten the integrity of the sport:

  • Owners willing to push their horses beyond their competitieve abilities (i.e., encouraging Trainers to "win at all cost") using whatever medications allowed to keep the horse on the track.
  • Trainers who play cat-and-mouse games with medications (permitted and not permitted) in an attempt to boost the Runner’s stamina prior to a race. 

The challenge for most Trainers is understanding the withdrawl periods for therapeutic medications and steriods; dosage; and acceptable administrative routes (i.e. orally, IV, etc.) for each state.  The challenge for racing officials is adopting uniform guidelines, rules, and procedures for the testing/oversight process.

Trace detection sensitivity is also a topic of debate.  Studies have been conducted that demonstrate cases in which horses not given medications will test positive for drug traces due to contaminated transport stalls, test barns, and water containers.  The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) points out that the way the lab handles post-race samples has been a “huge problem” as well.  This too places a big question mark over the argument for "zero tolerance" drug-testing policies.

To improve the consistency in medication standards and procedures, the American Graded Stakes Committee has formally implemented a mandated drug-testing policy for all states who wish to conduct graded stakes races.  The RMTC is trying raise awareness and level the playing field by getting Industry leaders with competing agendas to focus common interests - not an easy task when it comes to getting 30 states to agree on the same thing. 

As an owner, the decisions about your horse’s health, treatment, and welfare fall upon your shoulders.  That's why, it is important to discuss the veterinary procedures with your Trainer, and to stay informed on the latest Industry topics about medication policies. 

Mojo Makes It Easy

With Mojo Thoroughbred Holdings, LLC, becoming a Thoroughbred owner is easy, affordable, and most importantly, a lot of fun!  Having reliable resources; doing our part to support the Industry that helps us fulfill our dreams; and making an honest effort to understand what goes on before, during, and after our runner goes to the racetrack, all adds up to a positive ownership experience.


If you have any additional questions about participating in a Mojo Group, please contact: Fred Taylor, Jr. - Founder, CEM, and President - Mojo Thoroughbred Holdings, LLC.